Gardener's checklist for winter
What to do in your garden in the winter
- Cover open compost bins with a tarp when the rains begin.
- If frost is predicted, cover sensitive garden plants such as citrus, fuchsia and succulents or move them under a sheltering overhang. Use stakes around the plants to suspend the covering material so it doesn’t touch the foliage.
- Clean your tools—remove all soil and wash them with a 10 percent bleach solution to avoid spreading diseases. After drying them completely, apply a light layer of vegetable oil to prevent rusting.
- Sharpen your tools.
- Tour your landscape during a heavy rainfall. See where water is coming off your house and where there are eroding torrents. Think about ways to slow, spread and sink the rain.
- Plant any bulbs you’ve pre-chilled as soon as you’ve removed them from the refrigerator.
- Take cuttings of succulents and create small container gardens for holiday gifts.
- Bring trimmed bare branches indoors for a unique decorative element.
- Shop for the winter blooming camelia, Camellia sasanqua, while it is in bloom.
- Cover strawberries with row cloth.
Maintenance and Prevention
- Observe water runoff during a heavy rain and correct any drainage issues.
- Protect tender garden plants by covering them on frosty nights. Succulents, citrus, bougainvillea and fuchsias are among the frost-sensitive plants. Use stakes to keep material from touching foliage and remove the coverings when temperatures rise the next day.
- Spray fruit trees and roses with horticultural oil to control insects. Follow package instructions carefully. More Info on dormant spraying.
- Pick off old flowers from camellias and azaleas and clean up dropped flowers to reduce petal blight, a fungal disease. Do not add them to your compost pile.
- Avoid walking on or working in your garden beds after heavy rains, which can compact the soil.
- Revitalize your house plants by washing the leaves, inspecting for insects and repotting them if necessary. Only light feeding is needed in winter.
- Clean, sharpen and repair garden tools.
- Organize your tool shed.
- Buy and plant bare-root fruit and shade trees, roses, berries, vines and shrubs. Bare-root plants are less costly and establish faster than container plants. Avoid planting in soggy soil. More info on bareroot plants.
- Order seeds for your spring and summer garden.
- Sow seeds for carrots, winter radishes, rhubarb and turnips when heavy rains are not in the forecast.
- For indoor blooms, force narcissus and other bulbs by placing on pebbles or in shallow vases with minimal water.
Cutting and Pruning
- Consult a pruning guide that lists optimum pruning times for different species.
- Many deciduous trees, shrubs and vines can be pruned now.
- Do not prune spring-blooming plants, such as camelias, until after they bloom.
- Prune and cut back perennials and ornamental grasses.
- Prune established roses; clean up and remove all cuttings and leaf litter.
- Inspect your irrigation system for leaks and non-functioning emitters and sprayers. Make any needed repairs or changes.
- Continue to clean up old and dropped flowers from camellias and azaleas to reduce petal blight, a fungal disease. Do not add them to your compost pile.
- Avoid working in or walking on wet soil.
Pests and Weeds
- Check plants for aphids as the weather warms. Remove infestations with a hard spray of water or insecticidal soap.
- Stay on top of weeds. Hand pull them or cut off at the soil line.
- If needed, apply a final dormant oil spray to fruit trees.
- Finish planting bare-root plants (trees, roses, shrubs, berries, grapes, artichokes) before they break dormancy.
- Plant onion sets and potato tubers.
- Sow seeds of fava beans, beets, carrots, leeks, lettuce and other leafy greens, peas, radish, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips.
- Order summer-blooming bulbs.
- Repot cymbidium orchids if they are overfilling their pots.
Pruning and Cutting
- Finish pruning dormant plants. Wait to prune back frost-damaged plants until warmer weather when you see whether they have recovered.
- Cut back woody shrubs to stimulate new growth. To rejuvenate leggy shrubs, cut to the ground one-third of the oldest stems each year.
- Cut daffodils for indoor bouquets. Include other flowers in the same vase only after allowing daffodils to sit separately in water for at least six hours. This prevents the sticky sap that oozes out of daffodils from clogging the stems of other cut flowers.
- Trim branches of attractive winter bloomers (quince, flowering currant, forsythia) for indoor decoration.
Faith Brown, Nanette Londeree, Katie Martin, UCCE Placer County Master Gardeners
Northern California Gardening: A Month-by-Month Guide by Katherine Grace Endicott